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Will Candidates Running to Represent NYC in Albany Stand Up for Transit Riders?

With New York's transit system in crisis, the future of city subways and buses hinges on state elections this fall.

Today a coalition of advocates laid out the policy priorities they want candidates to endorse [PDF], and tops on their list is the enactment of congestion pricing to help fund the MTA's Fast Forward plan.

Transit generally isn't a top tier issue in Albany elections, but it should be. The MTA is a creature of the governor, and the state legislature wields enormous power over how the agency is funded and overseen.

Governor Cuomo and the state legislature have presided over a precipitous decline in subway service. Bus service keeps slowing down and losing riders. NYC streets are getting even more clogged by car congestion.

In addition to the high-profile gubernatorial primary, an unusually large number of seats in the State Senate will be contested in Democratic primaries this September. In the fall, the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans are now hanging on to a slim majority, is up for grabs.

Advocates are moving now to make transit a campaign issue up and down the ballot.

"Public transportation in New York is not working, and when public transportation does not work, it particularly impacts the poorest and most vulnerable New Yorkers," said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. "The underlying point here is that we can have the best plans in the world to fix the transit system, but they won't do the job if the governor and state lawmakers don't do their job and provide the sustainable funding source that we need to make it a reality."

Albany also wields power over New York's automated enforcement programs, including bus lane cameras, red light cameras, and speed cameras. This session, the legislature let the speed camera program expire, and unless the State Senate reconvenes to expand the program in the next few days, all 140 speed cameras in NYC will be shut off on July 25.

The coalition is calling on candidates to give New York City full control over its speed camera program.

Also on the agenda: bus service improvements and lifting restrictions on the use of bus lane enforcement cameras, improving Access-A-Ride services, the elimination of parking placards, a "lockbox" for transit funding, and support for the Gateway Tunnel and the overhaul of Penn Station.

With all eyes today on Mayor de Blasio's first meeting with NYC Transit President Andy Byford today, Raskin turned attention back to the governor and state officials.

"There's symbolic value to Andy Byford meeting with the mayor and having that conversation, but the reality is this: Only the governor can fix the transit system -- both because the governor runs the MTA, and because the governor dominates the state legislative and budget process that can produce the funding we need to modernize the MTA," he said. "The MTA belongs to the governor, and whether it's this governor or the next governor, any realistic solution to our transit crisis will require the governor's leadership and will require state lawmakers to do their job and provide the funding."

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